Six myths of positive news reporting debunked

Positive News

Positive news reporting is often perceived as serving only as light relief or as a trivial distraction from the realities of the world. But as Jodie Jackson explains, and there is a growing body of research emerging to suggest that these perceptions are unfounded

The value and importance of ‘positive news’ is questioned by many. It’s stunted by the perception that positive news stories are inconsequential and trivial, with little societal relevance, often sidelined to the “and finally” at the end of the news. Positive news often has a stigma attached to those that advocate for it, with the assumption that it is spoken about by those who are naïve, uninformed or simply blind optimists.

However, in recent years academic research in the field of both psychology and sociology has found many reasons to increase the amount of positive news published, linking it to higher levels of wellbeing and positive social behaviour. It has also been shown to re-engage and inform people about current affairs who have previously opted out of the news, citing it to be “too depressing”. So why has positive news been sidelined and misunderstood for so long? The shadow of myth attached to positive news often dwarfs its truth. The most common myths are tested below:

Myth 1: Positive news creates a false sense of security that the world is okay
Debunked: The purpose of telling positive news is not to reassure everyone that everything is okay, but instead to see what is possible; how individuals and communities are progressing to overcome problems and flourish. The publication of positive news stories provides status and visibility to these tangible examples of success that can be emulated, enabling the reader to feel empowered and aware of their own potential.

“Positive news stories are important to recognise in their own right, not secondary concerns only to be recognised in the absence of problems.”

Myth 2: Positive news is fluffy news of cats being saved from trees

Debunked: Research has shown that in mainstream media, positive news stories tend to be light-hearted, soft stories with a human-interest focus. The problem with focusing on only this type of positive news is that it creates an association between good news and inconsequential news. However, positive news is so much broader than this and includes stories of innovation, initiative, peace building, progress, solutions, achievements and positive aspects of society, which have significant weight to carry a news story.

Myth 3: Positive news leads to passivity
Debunked: Positive news has been shown to increase positive affect, which is the term given to describe the extent to which individuals experience positive emotions such as joy, interest, happiness and hope, which increase wellbeing. In addition, research has shown that motivation to take positive action significantly increases with higher levels of positive affect, such as donating to charity, participating in the community and becoming more environmentally friendly.

Myth 4: Positive news is the opposite of negative news
Debunked: Positive and negative news do not exist at polar ends of a spectrum, as their names would suggest. They operate on a continuum and can even be coexistent. This is partly due to the subjectivity of what is considered positive but also due to the fact that problems and solutions are two halves of the same story. Problem-focused journalism and solution-focused journalism do not need to be pitted against each other to decide which one is most important, but instead recognise both in their own right as serving an important informative function in the press.

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Myth 5: Positive news is not as important as negative news
Debunked: Positive news is hugely important to create better balance in the media. Research has shown this imbalanced negativity bias can cause detrimental effects to both the individual and society, including, but not limited to, anxiety, learned helplessness, contempt and hostility towards others, lack of civic engagement, misperception of risk, desensitisation, and in some cases this negativity bias can lead to complete avoidance of the news. We propose that the excess of negativity is not tackled by reducing the amount of negative news stories but instead by increasing the number of positive news stories told.

Myth 6: Positive news is inappropriate to talk about when there are so many terrible things happening in the world
Debunked: Positive news stories are important to recognise in their own right, not secondary concerns only to be recognised in the absence of problems. We need to notice the world’s achievements alongside its failings in order to report on and understand the world more accurately. In this case, the media institution and its journalists should report on strength as it does weakness, success as it does failure, human excellence as it does human corruption and scandal, solutions as it does problems, and growth as it does recession.

The importance of positive news is no longer a myth; it is instead a well-informed conclusion drawn from the fields of science, academia and good old-fashioned opinion polls. With this in mind, there is hope that positive news will become a stable part of news reporting, rather than a niche part of journalism.

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  • Maren Urner

    Thanks for the statement! Unfortunately, the sources (e.g. the mentioned empirical studies and data) are not mentioned for those who are not familar with the discussion yet.
    It might be more straight forward to talk about solution journalism instead of positive stories – as you do in between in the article. That way the logical connection between problem and solution is more obvious and the confusion about “cat rescued from the tree” headlines as well as negative vs. positive journalism is avoided.

  • twojays

    I would like to offer a counter balance to the previous comment and state that good news is Reality too. Solution varies. We are drowning in bad news here, which creates more bad news or negativity. New thought is here. Our thoughts have tangible energy that creates. Mankind is slowly pivoting to the positive and countering the profitable and manipulative trend of negative news and violence in our world. Choose a more positive view which is the launching of creative and brilliant solution thinking.

  • AnonHQ

    Keep up the good work guys! The world definitely needs positive news to get inspired and motivated by them. And as you mentioned, we can back your claim that positive news definitely creates positive activism, behaviour, and passion to create more positiveness in this world.

    Thank you very much.

    AnonHQ Team.

  • mumtotwo

    A great article. I was a news ‘avoider’. I avoided shops that sold newspapers, banks with rolling news screens even the petrol station. i found this website and now I can choose to engage in news when I want and have a more balanced hopeful view of the world, which has directly increased my engagement with my community, donating to charity and trying to be part of a worls I want in the future instead of trying to opt out of a world that scares me and makes me feel hopeless. I accept that bad things happen but before finding this site I had no hope that people were out there improving the world too. As a teacher of teenagers, many of my students say they believe life/the world/people to be getting worse and as they have no access to examples of people doing good things, they believe that there is little point volunteering/giving to charity/trying to make the world a better place. I would love to see Positive News being marketed more strongly towards younger generations, even primary age.

  • Mike Wheeler

    That’s a particularly good point in your last sentence.
    PN – what’s the current position regarding getting the publication into schools, colleges and universities?

  • Sparrow

    I totally agree with mumtotwo. Yesterday, I was on the bus and noticed the boy in front of me reading the Evening Standard, he must have been about 12. I looked to see which story he was reading, something about some gruesome murder. On the one hand, it’s great for young people to read a paper, however what are we feeding them? I don’t read the ES myself unless they write about one their great campaign. At the moment it is about trying to bring attention and make a difference in violent and neglected housing estates, which is solution based. But it got me thinking that it would be a great thing for the ES to include a couple of pages for young people giving them solution based news, like Positive News. The idea that just popped in my mind is the following. Would it be possible for Positive News to make some kind of deal with ES to have a couple of pages in there. It would benefit young people and everyone else, it would show ES readers that they are not the only ones out there trying to make a difference and give Positive News a much broader audience, which am sure, many people would be grateful for. Young people pick up the free papers, it could be a great opportunity to spread solution based journalism among them too.

  • Janne

    One problem is, that the news that we read are not in proportion to how they exist in reality. In reality, for example, the news about crimes would be a microscopic part of an average newspaper.

    The content of the news media is rationed according to a small group of people who decide what would be an interesting topic, and what would fit in the narrative of the news stream at any given time.

    In reality, positive or neutral topics would prevail. That would also create a need for the news media to think about their raison d’etre, and therein lies the problem. It would not only concern the business model of media, but it would also be a political issue.

  • Jay

    Positive news is sorely needed. I find I also avoid the media, computers and anything linked to newsreels including TV. I love the idea of positive news and hearing about good things that are happening can only balance the horrorifying news we are fed as a Nation.

  • jane

    Many people tend to copy what they see with the attitude of ‘if everyone else is doing that then its OK for me to do it as well.’ If the news is full of wars, murders, rape, theft etc then it is presumably OK to fight, kill, rape, steal etc. However if the news was full of positive achievements then those that copy would have something worthwhile to emulate and would be more shocked at the bad news rather than trying to emulate it.

  • Romany Buck

    Dear wonderful P/N folk,
    It’s the first time I’ve sent in a comment and it’s exciting!
    What could be better for this extraordinarily multidimensional world than a journalism that goes out of its way to educate us on what is actually taking place all over the planet…..people opening their hearts….their imagination….taking sometimes huge risks….to co-create a new way of being, thinking, constructing, teaching, developing… in and with community?
    This article is perfect response to a rather negative attitude among the souls who aren’t able to step beyond where they’re at….immersed in a lose-lose world of sadly distorted media.
    Let’s have a really win-win time from now on!
    By the way, I reconsider formers would be happy and inspired to hear about constructive journalism…..a great career choice…

  • Danie Botha

    Thank you for Positive News!
    Thank you for the post, Jodie!
    The added focus on innovation, perseverance and overcoming of challenges and solving crises is necessary–it gives and bring perspective.
    Point is: we need the facts, we also need hope.
    We are so used to being bombarded with what’s happening in the broken and sick world around us. It does affect the way we start thinking and seeing ourselves.
    And yes, please add your references.

  • marie-noelle anderson

    Positive news is positive vibes, positive vibes attracts positive spirit, positive spirit leads to positive actions, positive actions = not fear-based, create a better world.
    it is so simple. let’s move out of our little self importance, there’s more important things to do than dwell in fear !
    thank you to the team of Positive news ! you are doing a great, wonderful and needed job !

  • Jodie Jackson

    Hi Maren,

    Thank you for your comment. I am pleased that you see the logic in solutions focused journalism.

    The sources for this article are mainly journal articles including the following titles:
    “Negativism as a News Selection Predictor”
    “The Influence of Mass Media and Interpersonal Communication on Societal and Personal Risk Judgments”
    “Vicarious acquisition of learned helplessness”
    “Balancing good news and bad news: An ethical obligation”

    If you would like more information on any of these, please let me know.

  • Jodie Jackson

    Hi twojays,

    Thank you for your contribution. I agree that good news is reality too and it would be great to see more of it reported to give us a better (and more accurate) understanding of the world around us. This increased knowledge of what is working makes us aware of what is possible.

  • Jodie Jackson

    Hi Anon,

    Thanks for your contribution and for your encouragement!

  • Jodie Jackson

    Hi mumtotwo,

    Thank you for sharing your valuable experience and suggestion.I agree – I think young people would benefit from becoming more aware of humanities better nature in a bid to inspire it in themselves. Social media is a great platform to reach the younger generations.

  • Jodie Jackson

    The paper reports not only on level of reality but also on level of importance. We need the importance of positive news stories/ solutions focused news stories to be recognised too.

  • Jodie Jackson

    Thanks Marie-noelle for your kind words or encouragement.

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